BATON ROUGE, La. (BRPROUD) ––– College campuses across the country are no strangers to sexual assault cases, but how and where police speak to survivors greatly impacts the quality of investigations.

Thirteen percent of all college students experience some form of sexual assault, but only about thirty-one percent report an assault to the police. But reporting means police often have to interview the survivor to get the assailant off the streets. 

After suffering a tragic loss, Tracy Matheson decided more needed to be done to protect survivors. “Project Beloved is a nonprofit that I founded in the aftermath of what I would describe as a parent’s worst nightmare. My daughter, Molly Jane, was raped and murdered April 10, 2017,” she explained. 

For so long, law enforcement did the best they knew how to do, interviewing victims in the same kind of room they interview suspects. Matheson said that can make it difficult for them to remember important details to tell the police. “You’re putting them in a space that looks like these spaces that we see on television. They’re cold, stark, and sterile, and that is not taking into account trauma.”

Project Beloved is partnering with police departments to change that experience. “If we want to get the best evidence, make the best case, and get these perpetrators off the streets, we need to be trauma-informed, and one of the pieces is a soft interview room,” Matheson said.

Wanting to help foster trauma-informed care, the LSU Police Department partnered with Project Beloved to build its own soft interview room. As Matheson said, the department’s standard interview room is what you would expect. It’s a small room with plain walls, a table, and a few chairs. 

“You don’t wanna give a negative connotation of the police department or the way we operate based on them coming in and being in a cold-dark room that they can’t really feel comfortable in. They don’t really feel like talking because they don’t feel comfortable,” explained LSU Police Detective Marlon Hawkins.

But the soft interview rooms are warm and inviting and look more like a living room. “Being in that room with them, in a comfortable setting like this, it just makes them more likely to talk … You give them time just to relax and really get a feel that the officer is there to help them,” Hawkins said.

Working with Project Beloved was an easy choice. “You just reach out to them, let them know that you’re interested, and they’ll talk to you about colors, area rugs, and decorations,” Hawkins said, adding it’s entirely free for departments. “They’re not benefiting anything from it except implementing trauma-informed care across the nation, and that makes all the difference to them,” Hawkins said. 

Police departments across the country are moving in this direction, but it’s only the first step in introducing trauma-informed care. True change will take effort from all of us. “We place the blame on the victim. Why were you, why weren’t you? It’s this really awful cycle that we found ourselves in where victims don’t feel safe reporting a crime. The systems need work, but we as a society, we need work also,” Matheson said. 

Although it’s not going to foster change immediately, it’s a start in doing better for those who experience sexual assault. Matheson said, “maybe we’re gonna have law enforcement who is trauma-informed, and then we’re gonna have prosecutors who are trauma-informed and who understand how to inform a jury on what consent is. Then we’re gonna take rapists off the street and ultimately that should be our goal.”

For more information on Project Beloved, visit their website here